Joe Wilson's War
Six important guidelines for disrupting a joint session of Congress.
Rep. Joe Wilson's heckling of the president duing a joint session of Congress broke all kinds of rules of decency and decorum. But here are six important political guidelines to follow if you insist on heckling the president of the United States.
It’s a safe bet that when Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s address to Congress, he had no intention of being the lone angry voice cutting through the silence of Obama’s pregnant rhetorical pause. Wilson got sandbagged by his Republican colleagues who suddenly fell silent—he thought he’d be part of a chorus, not a solo act.
Mr. Wilson, does “Frank the Tank” sound familiar?—“We’re going streaking! Everybody’s doing it.”
Wilson, a heretofore unknown congressional backbencher, stirred up a hornet’s nest with his “audacity of dope” moment on Wednesday night. Given today’s political culture, there’ll probably be a next time, so let’s make sure everyone’s clear on the dos and don’ts from now on:
1) You Can’t Apologize for Apologizing
It is, as they say, a free country. If you’ve got the stones to call the president a liar at a nationally televised prime-time joint address to Congress—go for it, player. But don’t apologize later.
And definitely don’t go on Sean Hannity’s show and apologize for apologizing by saying that you respect “the office of the president,” but you think there’s a “double standard.” Because if you mean the double standard that leaves room for a white congressman to heckle a black president, but not vice versa, then yeah, we’re sorry about that, too.
Heckling says, “I’m not scared of you.” Apologizing says, “Am I still on your Super Bowl guest list?”
2) You Can’t Refuse a “Chal-Lenge!”
This is why they had duels back in the day. Someone heckles you in Congress, you retort:
“You, sir, are a cad—en garde!”
Since neither Obama nor Wilson is likely to have any fencing skills, the choices here for Obama to get satisfaction should be a nationally televised game of H-O-R-S-E, 20 nationally televised hands of high-stakes, heads-up no-limit Texas hold ‘em—using the players’ own cash—or an American Idol style speech-a-thon, wherein each man riffs extemporaneously for five minutes on any issue and then gets critiqued by Ellen DeGeneres.
3) You Might Be a Redneck If ...
Do black people have to do everything? African Americans are running the country, winning all the golf tournaments and providing Jimmy Fallon’s backup music. Do African Americans have to patrol manners and decorum now, too? What’s happens next? Black folks set interest rates?
Memo to white Americans: Thanks to Congressman Wilson et al, you’re dangerously close to getting Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure and Emily Post’s Etiquette officially replaced by Parliament Funkadelic and Karen Grigsby Bates’ New Basic Black.
4) You Don’t Want Any of This
If Republicans pick Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to defend Wilson, then when the situation is reversed, Democrats get to go with Chris Rock, Eminem and Tony Blair.
If we had Prime Minister’s Questions in America, bet 10-to-1 on Obama against the field. Trust.
5) You Can’t Put the Toothpaste Back in the Tube
If a guy from one party heckles the other party’s president, that guy’s party is banned from complaining the next time someone from the other party heckles that party’s next president.
So, if Gov. Mitt Romney ever wins the White House and gives a speech to a joint session of Congress, and an unknown Democratic congresswoman shouts “Eat me!” from the back row, the only acceptable Republican response is: “God bless America and our beautiful First Amendment.”
6) “You Gots to Chill”
This one is for House Democrats.
You won this round. When Wilson let fly with his outburst, Obama’s facial expression was like, “Dude, I’m standing right here.” Vice President Joe Biden’s woeful downward glance said, “We’re not all related, really.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reaction was a tie between “See me after class” and “Negro, please.”
Sure, it’s touching that Majority Whip James Clyburn, the second highest-ranking African-American elected official in the federal government (whose district just happens to border Wilson’s) wants to bring Wilson up on charges for violating House conduct rules, but there’s really no need. A formal proceeding will backfire on the Dems and turn Wilson into a right wing folk hero.
Frat boys like Wilson are out of step with the times. Just call U.N. Jefferson and make Obama an honorary member of Lambda Lambda Lambda.
One day, Americans will realize that “No one’s going to be free until nerd persecution ends.”
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.